James Rampton on comedy

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The Independent Culture
Like virtually every artform going, poetry has been called the new rock'n'roll. John Hegley (below), our finest stand-up poet, dismisses that as so much "media nonsense. They just couldn't think of anything else to write. It came about because there was that business about the 20 poets and the media need to find a way of pigeon-holing things in soundbites. But poetry now is less popular than it was with The Ranters in the early 80s, and nothing these days sells like Patton, McGough and Henri did in the 60s." Flying a sometimes solitary flag, Hegley has helped keep performed poetry in the spotlight. He reckons he has managed this because "I've gone through the comic school. Appearing at the Comedy Store is a hard way of learning to perform. You need to learn how to sell your material. Also, they're accessible poems. I do write them to be performed rather than as an expression of the Muse. The Muse has to think of others. It's that old Adrian Mitchell quote - 'most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people'. At the same time, poetry shouldn't ignore poetry, but there is some middle ground." Each night in his run, Hegley is featuring work from a different one of his six collections, which major on the importance of wearing glasses. He is promising some epic, 20-minute poems as well as a dance poem. "Hey," he laughs, "maybe poetry's the new dance."

'John Hegley and His Books', Battersea Arts Centre, London, SW11 (0171- 223 2223) to Sun

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